Anti-Access Area-Denial (A2AD) in Military Domains and in Cyberspace

December 17, 2012
Cyber Security
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220px-B-2_leading_Valiant_ShieldSince 9/11, the US has invested heavily in high-end technologies to counter military threats. We have all been amazed at some of the breakthroughs that have been made. Eleven years of fighting on multiple battlefields has given us the opportunity to test these new technologies in places and ways that were never possible before. Throughout these many campaigns however, we have had the luxury of constant, assured access to cyberspace. Sure – there was never enough bandwidth for data-thirsty military operations, but we were basically un-contested in the cyberspace domain throughout our wars and other military activities. Whatever we wanted to do, cybersapce was more or less always usable. As we wind down and try to move these bandwidth-intensive technologies and advancements to counter other potential adversaries, we should understand that owning the cyberspace domain will not always be possible. Our dependency on this connectivity might just be our Achilles heel.

Anti-Access Area-Denial or A2AD is just a fancy acronym for an old military priority: getting control of the area you are going to operate in (air, sea, cyberspace, etc.) and making sure you deny that area to your adversary. DoD’s entire Air-Sea Battle is an effort to identify how we will defeat our adversaries A2AD capabilities such as missiles, mines, or cyber attacks. Whether you are operating from a submarine or driving an unmanned vehicle, the domains – air, land, sea, undersea, space – are highly dependent on the cyberspace. And cyberspace is both an exponential force multiplier AND a critical vulnerability.

We can’t train without it and we can’t fight without it. But Cyberspace for DoD (defined as our interconnected information technology) has vulnerabilities. Professionals realize with any vulnerability, there are opportunities. But to take advantage of the opportunity we need clear, open analysis of the vulnerability and ways to mitigate them.

The following reviews some gaps and key emerging technologies that will help reduce critical shortfalls:

  • We must have a back up plan – the ability to operate in limited, degraded bandwidth environments. Years ago when I worked at one of DoD’s teleports, we scoffed at the idea of using HF to communicate; it was just too small a pipe for any meaningful communications. Now we are reexamining how HF might play in an A2AD environment.
    • The Navy is using a program called the Battle Force Tactical Network (BFTN) to develop a capability to use the HF and UHF radio spectrum to provide line of sight and beyond line of sight network capability in a SATCOM deprived scenario. In operational exercises with our allies, we are testing HFIP and Sub-Net Relay and experiencing data rates of 120kbps and 1.92Mbps, respectively. Not enough to do high-end imagery, for sure! But enough to keep us connected by chat, email and share a common operational picture, with some web-replications and a limited amount of VoIP and video. This isn’t really new technology; we have had these capabilities for a long time (although there are some neat new-tech enablers that are making this less painful than it used to be). The real interesting part about this is that we are actually testing it and exercising it with our allies again.


  • Backup plans also apply to infrastructure and data. This calls for well engineered solutions to fast data storage and access and recovery capabilities like those provided by Cleversafe. There are many other gaps that must be addressed to form holistic engineering solutions to backup and security needs for the enterprise. We will save those for a future post since there are so many elements to review, but it is important for any in industry to understand that the military needs your continued innovation in this area.


  • Understanding the state of the enterprise is so difficult that DoD has spent millions of dollars and years of effort and can only marginally show what networks are RED/GREEN/YELLOW in a way that is useful to the commander.
    • Tools are needed that show the health and status of these architectures and that will plug and play with existing networks.
    • Tools are needed that can show how these networks are connected in an operational sense. For example, if a network is down (RED), does it impact an existing mission? This is not easy, since it connects network status tools to complex OPLANS and changing Task Force designations.


  • The data sets are so large and complex it’s impossible to pull out critical insights with the current architecture. Tools that enable multilayered analysis will be of value, especially when using some of the limited bandwidth techniques discussed above. Any plan that depends on big-bandwidth to port huge amounts of data back to a common analysis center is fraught with problems in an A2AD scenario.
    • I like the technologies used by Thetus Corporation. They have a product called Savanna, which provides search, visualization, discovery, analytic and production tools. It also organizes the data in meaningful ways. I think that a test of how this could be distributed and synchronized across a tactical network with coalition or OGO would provide some interesting results. See a video of this at To be able to do this type of analysis during an A2AD environment, we must practice it first and establish clear guidelines on how the analysis is performed when the bandwidth is degraded.
    • Other key technologies which can help address this need include those from MarkLogic, Cloudera, Cleversafe, and Terracotta.


  • “Pervasive Interoperability” will be a cornerstone to all future military campaigns. It’s hard to picture many scenarios where DoD would operate alone. Visualization tools are needed that clearly display a meaning across a coalition that includes numerous partners – including other Governmental organizations (OGO) or other nations.


  • Speed of decision and speed of action is also a key requirement in modern military campaigns. This means IT systems must be engineered to be fast and responsive. Expect much more use of modern in-memory and advanced caching solutions. This is also a strong point for Terracotta.

As we move forces and capabilities to new areas of operation, we need to view each one with the lens of “how will it work in a contested cyberspace”. Each new technology insertion should demand a complimentary review of how it works in A2AD environments. The smart technologist will be able to answer that question as new capabilities are rolled out. We cannot blindly assume the cyberspace will be ours for future campaigns.

Do you have technologies you believe can address key mission needs of the DoD? If so, let us know about them here.  Are you looking for new technologies to help architect solutions to these mission needs? Search for the latest technology here.  We also link to many of these tech leaders below and at

Via CTO Vision